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Comparing Earth's Atmosphere with other planets

Measure Nearby Planets

Many scientists and governments express concern over how the composition of the atmosphere will affect global temperature and weather patterns. For example, if the average temperature increases by 10° F globally, how will that affect agriculture and the food supply? What about changes in weather patterns? Too much water = flooding, and too little water = drought. Do humans contribute to this problem? Sure! Any increase in greenhouse gases will increase the effectiveness of the atmosphere at trapping heat, and industrial nations that burn fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in HUGE quantities every year. If the temperature on Earth continues to rise, is there a possibility that we could be making Earth too hot to like on? Is there any way we could “cool off” the Earth, or make the increase in temperature more gradual and slow?

Perhaps if we look at how the Earth’s atmosphere compares with the atmospheres of Venus and Mars, you will come up with some ideas about how atmosphere and temperature can be brought into better control. Let’s check it out.

Let's go back to the activity where we measured the temperature, pressure, and ozone of the atmosphere, only this time we'll send a probe to other planets.

Interactive Lab

Launch a rocket similar to Russia's Mars-96 probe.

We learned about how Earth's atmosphere is heated, let's see what it's like on other planets.

Interactive Lab

Click image for interactive comparison.

Now answer these review questions.

  1. When looking at all of the factors that affect temperature and temperature ranges of planets, many scientists have explained the phenomenon observed in the comparison of Venus, Earth, and Mars as the “Goldilocks Effect.” Write a brief paragraph explaining the analogy of how the Goldilocks Effect applies to the temperature variations seen on these three planets.

    What is the bottom line for determining atmospheric temperature of planets? You must always consider energy.

  2. Where is the energy coming from to heat the planets initially?

  3. What factors will trap energy in a planet’s atmospheric system?

  4. What will reflect incoming solar energy back into outer space?

  5. What is the most variable component of the Earth’s atmosphere that is most likely the main reason Earth does not experience huge temperature variations between night and day?

  6. If the temperature of a planet is to remain constant, the energy in must equal the energy out.

Enter your name:

Scientists are concerned about changes in the Earth’s atmosphere that will upset the balance of energy in or out of the Earth system. So far, Earth is not too hot, not too cold, but just right (referring to the Goldilocks analogy). But Earth’s atmosphere is changing, and Earth may not always enjoy the benefits of the atmosphere we have today. Studying the factors that affect temperature on other planets may help us discover secrets to maintaining our own atmosphere – which is really a thin blanket of air that supports life as we know it. Human impacts on the atmosphere, which are controllable to a degree, are ones scientists are seriously studying, hoping to find the answers they need to keep Earth “just right.”

So what makes Earth "just right"?
Earth’s temperature stays relatively constant (when compared to other planets) because of the greenhouse effect. This is good – the Earth continues to re-radiate light even during the night-time hours when one side of the Earth is not receiving sunlight.



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